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on 18 August 2017
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on 5 November 2013
Another strong, unsung heroine from history. I didn't know anything about Emma prior to reading this. Really enjoyed learning about her.
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on 9 September 2015
Great book covering a period in history I didn't get an opportunity to study in school
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on 23 July 2010
Where I grew up, there are many runic stones from the 11th century that commemorates husbands, fathers, brothers and friends who died eastwards (Russia, Byzantium) or westwards (England, Scotland). Some of the westward ones probably went with Knut or one of the Olafs. I had heard of Emma as Knut's queen and seen her grave in Winchester. Not until I read this book did I realise she was a Norman that married an Anglo-Saxon King first.

Considering the scarcity of the records O'Brian has made a fantastic job of putting together the story of this politically active woman. And she tells the story in a very readable way. Sometimes she makes educated guesses and sometimes she fleshes out the story without evidence, but this is permissible as it is clear from the notes where she takes these liberties. Sometimes we even get glimpses of Emma the woman, not only Emma the queen.

In addition to Emma's life, O'Brian gives us her historic surroundings and thus the history of England at that time, with glimpses of Norman and Scandinavian events. Several other main players in English-Danish-Norman policies are also interestingly described. It seems it was possible for powerful men to change sides almost any number of times. O'Brian does not comment on the fact that in Scandinavia kings were chosen, not born. Could this explain why so many thought they were the right successors to Knut?

That a woman could be powerful in those days does not surprise me at all, at least not a Norman woman. Of course she could! Who else but the wife was taking care of the Scandinavian home while the husband played Viking in York or Constantinople?

One thing I do not understand after reading the book, though. Why did not Emma become a Saint? She generously supported the church and for many royals that was enough. And if Olaf Haraldson (he who fell London Bridge and was an orthodox monk in Kiev) could become a catholic saint, anyone could!
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#1 HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERon 4 August 2014
England at the start of the previous millennium was already an unstable place, made worse by the incompetent King AEthelred. His first wife had produced ten children by him including six sons, but he eventually re-married, this time to Emma of Normandy, who as the book makes clear, was a close relative of William the Conqueror.

The book tells us a lot about events in England between Emma's arrival in England and her death about fifty years later, plus some stuff about events between her death and the Norman conquest. Although this latter period is covered in more detail elsewhere, it made sense for the author to give the basics. Tracy Borman's book Matilda: Queen of the Conqueror is just one of many other sources for such information.

Emma is sometimes portrayed as a generous woman, but always in the context that her generosity might be reciprocated in some other way. However, none of the characters emerge with any real credit. One almost wonders if William was being kind to England by conquering the country.

As I've said elsewhere, I only started looking into what ancient royals got up to when I learned that I carry a few drops of their blood, albeit my most recent ancestor among them died several hundred years ago. Emma's link is even more tenuous than most of them, as only one of her five known children produced an enduring line of descent, but if my information is correct, she is my ancestor. I have to say that on the basis of this book, I can't be proud of that fact, nor of the fact that some of the other people mentioned in the book are also allegedly my ancestors. They seem to have been a fairly disreputable bunch, including King Cnut, who is not the ancestor of anybody alive today as his own children, including those he had with Emma, all died childless.
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on 25 October 2010
If you want to access a fascinating area of history with not much previous knowledge of the topic, then this is the book for you. It is well written and engaging, and overall provides an excellent narrative of the period c. 980-1066.

HOWEVER, if you are looking for a bit more serious historical research then this can only be a starting point for these reasons;

1. The focus on Emma is lost until the final 3 or 4 chapters. Up until then, she plays a mostly supporting role. As such, this reads more like a general history of the period. If that's what you're looking for then there are better alternatives (Rex, Barlow etc. on Edward the Confessor).

2. The title suggests that Emma 'shaped' the events of 1066. This is utter rubbish, and is a massive exaggeration of her role. This tenuous link is really only explained in the final pages of the book, the reason being that she is William the Conqueror's aunt. This is used to incorrectly demonstrate that his claim exceeded any other solely by virtue of this blood relation. Unfortunately this is a massively understated argument in the text, and is therefore surprising to find it as the subtitle. Unquestionably she influenced the environment of pre-Norman England, but she certainly did not pave the way for a Norman invasion as is suggested by O'Brien.

As a historical text, therefore, it is inadequately focused on Emma herself and frequently digresses into rather vague and unnecessary journalistic narrative. It would be much improved by delving more deeply into the contemporary sources of the period.

As a starting point, it's excellent, but not as an in-depth account.
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VINE VOICEon 9 March 2007
Although for much of the book, Emma does not feature in the foreground due to the paucity of records, this provides a fascinating account of national and international politics in the first half of the 11th century; more of a "The Times of Queen Emma" approach, than a biography as such. It is amazing to think that twice in half a century England was conqered and much of its ruling class replaced by foreigners, first Danes, then Normans and Emma was near the heart of both these centres of power.
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on 26 July 2011
This is a great book to explain the complicated events of this period. Emma is explored through her deeds and actions as a woman of confidence, with choices and determination, instead of the usual passive female role. Although an extremely sympathetic portrayal of Emma, O'Brien doesn't offer a one sided view and doesn't seek to justify her actions other than by their expediency in context. There are three family trees and a short description of the key characters at the start of the book which act as a handy reference guide as events unfold. The prose rattles along with an enjoyable turn of phrase, and it is only a shame O'Brien hasn't written more.
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on 18 July 2012
This non-fiction book starts off on a suprisingly narrative and almost fictional note in that it sets the scene of how young Emma, daughter of the Duke Richard of Normandy was set upon a ship to England to marrie a man double her age and seal a strategic alliance against the growing strength of the Vikings. Some people may not like this narrative introduction but I think it adds that extra sparkle and almost depth to the text as it helps the reader imagine what Emma must have been like as each chapter and section goes through the key areas of history and introduce key characters that had a major influence not just on Emma's own life but of course the very history of English rule.
Emma is one of those forgotten queens who sadly reigned not once but twice (as well as strongly in the background of two of her son's reigns - Harthacnut and Edward (the confessor's early rule)) but also in a period of history not often talked about or featured in historical literature both non-fiction and fiction. That is the period before 1066, when King Ethelred the Unready (ill-counciled) was in power and the time when England was actually under Danish rule and formed part of a large scandinavian empire under King Cnut (or Canute if you prefer).
The reader will learn an awful lot not just about Emma but about the world and society she grew up in and will realise that Emma show's the inner strength, cunning and social survival skills that shone through in Queen Elizabeth 1st in the sixteenth century and equally Queen Victoria in the nineteenth century. But I am pleased to say that not one jot of this book is dry or boring. Each chapter is interesting, enriching, enlightening and even entertaining as the first.
If you wish to understand better the background behind 1066 well why not start from where it truly all began, with a similar battle of wills for the throne of England - before Godwinesone vs Hardrada vs Duke William ..... it was Swein/Cnut vs Edmund Ironside and the current King Ethelred who held a shakey stability. And weaving between these great men was one woman who was a foriegner herself - Emma of Normandy who outlived them all.
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on 15 January 2017
It is probably fair to say that few people know anything at all about Queen Emma. It turns out that she may have been an extremely important figure in the first half of the 11th century. Married to England’s famously hapless king Aethelred the Unready and then to the rather more impressive Cnut, ironically most famed for failing to turn back the tide, she was the mother of short-lived king Hardecnut and his half-brother Edward the Confessor. She appears to have been completely loyal to nobody and her life had its share of ups and downs so with the interesting background information and anecdotes that accompany her story this makes a fascinating and very readable tale. Some of the interpretation is not entirely convincing, especially in respect of her relationship with her sons and if the book she commissioned really was meant to promote an Anglo-Danish rapprochement under Hardecnut and Edward as legitimate royal heirs to the throne it is not clear why her first marriage is virtually ignored. Nor is a compelling explanation offered for her downfall and restoration under Edward. Innevitably much is speculation given the lack of reliable information. The author states at the end that Emma’s blood line continues to rule England but it is only via a nephew that this is true. At the end there is a bizarre note about the typeface which is curiously irrelevant to the subject of the book and of no obvious interest whatsoever.
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